The Prison of Self

Along the Appalachian Trail, there are many hostels and other places for hikers to resupply, shower, recharge electronics, eat, rest, and more. Most of these businesses are owner operated, and run on the “honor system”. That means that, when a hiker arrives, a “tab”, typically a sheet or card, is initiated and maintained with a list of all the services and products that the hiker consumes. The tab is often maintained by the hiker, hence the honor system. My first few experiences with this system left me a little uncomfortable, it’s not what I’m used to. The system stands in stark contrast to many of our current establishments, which demand a “credit card number on file”. Many medical establishments ask first, and before the nature of ones ailment, “how will you be paying today?”

I asked about the nature of this system, I received the same answer from more than one hostel owner. First, the honor system is simpler than multiple individual – credit card or cash – transactions. Also, it makes a bit of mathematical sense because, for the percentage of slippage or bills not paid that the owner sustains, it’s still cheaper than dedicating all that effort to engaging each and every candy bar, pint of ice cream, etc. Finally, there’s a continuity within the hiker community such that one’s reputation follows the person up and down the trail. If Joe Quickwalker skips on his bill in Virginia, it’s likely that word of his misdeed will precede him to Vermont. It may seem odd, but I actually saw it happen.

I’ve given a lot of thought to honesty. Where did it originate within human history? How did it develop, and why? In contrast to some trains of thought, I don’t believe that Truth – ergo honesty – is tied to a Divine Law or Ecclesiastical Imposition. I believe that honesty can be traced to tribal roots. Honesty within a tribe was, and still is, key to survival. If one of the scouts came back to camp and said there was a herd of buffalo two hills over, it’s best that they’re really there. This principle isn’t hard to follow. If everyone is leaning, to the best of their ability, toward a common, shared reality life is workable, survivable. If everyone took license to make up their own reality, chaos would pervade human interaction.

Each of the hostels along the trail, while sharing some qualities and traits, is unique to itself. Some are more attractive to young hikers, others to the older crowd. Some insist on no smoking – of any substance. Some are warm and relaxed, others have more rigid rules and controls. One particular hostel, that catered to long distance as well as local hikers, was very well maintained by a set of rules that were well beyond the norm. It was run by a young lady who was very much a “take charge” person.

When I first met the gal, I had an odd sense about her. Upon our first interaction, as she introduced me to the place, I got the sense that she was not telling me the full truth, that I could not trust her word. As we continued to interact, that sense continued to grow. I had arrived on Friday, and I was tired, dirty, and hungry. I had explicitly told her over the phone that I wanted to stay for the entire weekend. I was led to believe, at the time, that it would not be a problem. However, after I arrived, she told me that I could only stay for one night. This contradicted what I had been led to believe over the phone. Her apology rang hollow and her reasoning was weak with no personal consideration. After a while, I realized that I had been lied to by omission. For me, from the hiker viewpoint, this was extremely inconvenient. The situation had been controlled and manipulated by half truth to her advantage, at my personal expense. There was something inside me that decided to not resist, and I knew that an argument would not change anything. I decided to challenge her, gently, and it became obvious immediately that she was going to shut me down at any cost. I finally realized that, although inconvenient, leaving the place was to my advantage; more so than staying around to be further controlled and manipulated.

Through my experience, I had an interesting insight into her world. Although she couldn’t see it, she was locked inside her own little world of manipulation, control, and half truth, and it was her world alone. She was bound by her own fabrications of reality to maintaining a construct of reality that must be constantly recreated and asserted, it could not be truly shared with others because it was hers and hers alone, carefully created to manipulate the world to her advantage. She was locked in the prison of herself. Although her business had all the external appearance of success and attractiveness, to one who looked deeper into the resonation of interaction, trust was difficult to establish. I realized, through this interaction, a profound aspectof and the deeper meaning of the saying “The Truth shall set you Free.


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